Coupled with this is speed. We try never to stop paddling so in practice, to conserve energy we do a slowed down paddle where the boat continues to move forward. When it comes time to pick up speed our caller in the bow will shout out instructions to start a certain number of repeat paddlings at a certain percentage, say 80%. We build up to this with sets of 6 or 10 or whatever the coach decides works for us. Of course, when we get to top speed, it has to be 100%.
When she calls, the pitch of her voice goes down deep several octaves so that what I hear back in row six is a husky voiced command that commands respect or else! She’s waiting to feel that moment when the boat responds with a jolt and “oomfs” forward at a faster speed. It’s kind of like passing through a speed barrier.
If you don’t follow the proper paddling technique, your arms and body will feel like they are dying and there won’t be any co-created “oomf”.
After two months of paddling practice I’m finally starting to understand what hinging my body forward means. And while I do that, I have to reach forward with my paddle until my nose is practically touching the back of the girl in front of me. And just when I’m done and pushing the water aft, I have to spring back up to not quite an upright position. Anatomically, it means that the body core is getting an incredible workout. And if you haven’t used your core in this way ever before, it will shout out to you in great discomfort and maybe even some pain.
Then of course, you still need to keep in mind that your butt needs to be dynamic as well. One side comes up and back down again while you turn at the hips.There’s so much to remember that right now I’m only executing parts of these “orchestral maneuvers” by prioritizing on just pushing my weight down on that paddle from the waist while sucking in the abdominal muscles and making sure my knee is glued to the gunwale while I’m holding the paddle the right way. Whew! When paddling full out I don’t know what hurts more, the butt or the lower back. It depends on the day and what side of the boat I’m paddling on.
So while I’m going through these early stages of the learning curve with different body parts letting me know where they are on the tolerance level of pain, I’m also working on my brain. It’s receiving all these messages that the body is sending out and under “normal” circumstances, it would instruct the body to stop, or at the very least, slow down. That’s about the time we all start shouting out and driving even harder in co-creating “oomf” from our thwarts.
I have to have this conversation with my logical side and convince it that since we are now part of a team, we don’t get to decide when we stop or start. So “we” must learn how to “go with the flow” and push that boat through the water in unison with our other team members who are having similar conversations with their brain. We’re all in this together.
The amazing thing with adrenalin is that once you get past a certain barrier, there’s this explosion that takes place and you find more energy than you thought you ever had in you. The pain part of the experience becomes secondary because the high you get takes the spotlight.
Our coach Pam talked about putting our heart and our will into paddling our dragonboat. There’s a point when you realize that you are not alone perched on this hard thwart, hip and knee practically glued to the gunwale, paddle in hand and in “stealth” position. We’re learning to do this together as a unit, and that means stretching forth (in more ways than one!) and embracing the co-creation process as one rider on this floating dragon.